Vango’s Alex Tongue on the origins of the #UpsideDownChallenge Game

Alex Tongue, Vango

Alex, it’s great to connect. To kick us off, what set you on the path to game design? Was it always part of the plan?
Likewise! The #UpsideDownChallenge Game is what launched us into the games category in a big way. We were able to build on the success of that item to expand our line-up and grow into other categories. While games are at the core of our business, we now have products across multiple categories with more to come!

Exciting. And are you a big gamer?
I love games, but contrary to what you might think, I’m the guy who has to play through a game multiple times before I really understand how it works… This is actually a sort of benefit as it allows me to determine whether a game is going to be too complex for the average person to learn – and if it has unnecessary game mechanics that don’t add play value.

Alex Tongue, Vango

Yes, it’s a good test for a game to pass. You mentioned The #UpsideDownChallenge Game – how did that come about?
There’s an old psychology experiment in which the subjects wore goggles that flipped their vision upside down. I won’t go into the details of it, but my dad had sent me a video showing these goggles and suggested it could be a good game. He was right! After playtesting it and realising it was ton of fun, we ran with the idea and created an entire game around doing challenges while wearing the goggles.

What I love about the game – and part of its mass appeal – is that it levels the playing field for families. It doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s the same difficulty level for everyone, which is very different than most other family party games. We’ve since expanded the line to include various editions of this game. These items have proven to be evergreen successes globally.

Alex Tongue, Vango

And did you always want to build a company around that game? Did you ever consider licensing the idea?
I had been in the toy industry for several years before starting Vango and knew that I wanted to start my own company, so I never even considered going the licensing route and pitching it to other companies. I felt my strengths were in building a company and marketing the products.

Were there any design challenges in getting the upside down googles right?
Many! We spent a lot of time figure out how to optimise various aspects of the product. As with any product, there are a lot of little things you don’t think about when starting off… The lenses that flip your vision upside down were particularly difficult to get right due to the level of precision needed. Thankfully, we have a great team in place to tackle these sorts of challenges.

You’ve followed this game up with You’re Getting Old. How would you pitch this one?
The short pitch is that You’re Getting Old as a game for aging millennials – such as myself. The idea was prompted by my wife and I joking about some of the things we had been saying that we never would have said a few years ago… Like 8pm is too late to start a movie.

Alex Tongue, Vango

Then there was the TikTok video that went viral where a Gen Z girl was ripping on Millennials, saying that side parts are out of style and skinny jeans are no longer cool. What that made clear was that Millennials were getting old, but they didn’t really realise it – so we made a game about that! You’re Getting Old is a really simple gameplay, and it’s more of a conversation game than a strategy game, which makes it ideal for laid back game nights that are so popular today.

Alex Tongue, Vango

Sounds like a winner. Looking ahead to Q4, you also have Bad Girl Era and Stupid Stupider Stupidest on the way. What can you tell us about these?
We had strong sales with You’re Getting Old and wanted to take the same gameplay format and apply it to other themes. Bad Girl Era is about the mean and petty things you’ve said or done, while Stupid Stupider Stupidest is about your facepalm moments. Both games are a sort of modern day “never-have-I-ever” and include an extra gameplay mechanism that adds the element of competition.

Alex Tongue, Vango

What guides your strategy when it comes to what sorts of games to launch next?
We are always looking for where the games category is moving in terms of consumer tastes and trends. To do this, we look at retail trends, inventors and also social media for inspiration. I’ve learned that good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone!

We also want products that have a unique trait or differentiation that we can market. We are very selective about what we decide to move forward with, which is why we don’t have a ton of products. The products that we do proceed with get our full support in terms of marketing and distribution. Our focus is on launching fewer products, but supporting them with big marketing plans. There are too many great games that never got off the ground simply because the company didn’t put marketing resources behind it.

Alex Tongue, Vango

You mentioned inventors there…
Yes! We’ve licensed a few games that are either in the market now or will be coming out this year.

Great! For any inventors reading, what makes something right for Vango?
We’re not only interested in games – we want to see all sorts of toys and crafts too! We like ideas that were inspired by an insight, whether that’s gap in the market for a certain gameplay, a social trend or an innovative new material not being utilised. This allows us to build a brand and theme around the gameplay that makes it marketable.

Speaking of things outside of games, Vango has also launched BIZYBOO Hide-N-Seek Busy Bags. I imagine this is quite a different skill-set to creating party games! What sparked the idea for this line?
This item was inspired by some DIY products we saw parents making on social media. They were filling pencil bags with rice and random objects to keep their kids busy on long drives, or waiting rooms, or any other situation in which you need your kid to be calm. As we started developing this item, we heard from a lot of parents that they had done this same thing for their kids. It was clear this item provided value to parents, but there was nothing on the market filling this need other than some handmade products on Etsy – which sold really well!

BIZYBOO was our answer to this insight. It’s been a hit with kids and parents. We just recently launched our BIZYBOO Easter Series and it was completely sold out by the first week of March! We have some new themes and designs in the works now.

Alex Tongue, Vango

We’ll keep an eye out for those. Alex, this has been fun. Two final questions… Where did the name Vango come from?
I wanted the company to be named ‘Tango Toys’ simply because it sounded fun. That was taken though so we went through the alphabet until we landed on Vango. Simple as that! Maybe I should come up with a better story?

Ha! It’s good enough for me! And finally, what fuels your creativity? What helps you have ideas?
I like looking outside the toy industry for inspiration. Sometimes when you try to think up new toys and games, you have a hard time expanding beyond just what you know. When you start looking outside of the industry, that’s when ideas will pop out to you!

Good answer. Thanks again Alex.

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